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Nothing Is Less Popular Than the Corpse of a Nazi War Criminal

Thankfully, there's a shady Catholic sect who are happy to bury Erich Priebke.

Erich Priebke (Screen grab via)

Last Friday, Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke died. He was 100 years old and had been under a very lax state of house arrest at his lawyer's apartment in Rome, serving out the final days of the life sentence he was given for orchestrating and conducting the Fosse Ardeatine massacre on the 24th of March, 1944.

The ex-SS captain never expressed any kind of remorse for the 335 civilians and soldiers who were killed that day, always maintaining that he'd simply been following orders. Even in his "testament" – a seven-page message released by his lawyer last week – Priebke denied both the Holocaust and the Nazi gas chambers, claiming they were just "very big kitchens".


While remarks like these have turned him into a kind of spirit animal for fascism fetishists and Nazi nostalgists, unsurprisingly Priebke remains widely despised. Argentina – where he lived for 50 years after the war – refused to allow Priebke's body to be returned to the country to be buried alongside his wife, and his German hometown of Hennigsdorf also shunned his corpse, fearing his grave would become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.

A few hours after Priebke's death, his lawyer had declared that the funeral would take place in Rome. However, shortly after he made the announcement, both civil and religious authorities rejected any sort of ceremonial funeral for Priebke, with the Italian capital's mayor declaring that "Rome is an anti-fascist city".

In fact, after his death, nobody expressed any interest in dealing with Priebke's corpse for an entire five days. Until this Tuesday, when the controversial Lefebvrian community announced that the funeral would take place in their Saint Pius X Institute in Albano Laziale, which is near Rome and around 15 miles from the site of the Ardeatine massacre that Priebke helped perpetrate. The Lefebvrians are officially known as the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), and are an international traditionalist Catholic organisation who – shockingly – have been accused of holding racist and anti-semitic views in the past.

The local mayor is understandably opposed to the plans, but that doesn't seem to bother the man in charge of proceedings. Lefebvrian Father Floriano Abrahamowicz has said, "Priebke wasn’t a Nazi and he didn’t have any national-socialist beliefs, either," and also plans to hold a commemorative mass for the ex-SS captain next Saturday in Treviso, northern Italy.


Protesters at Priebke's attempted funeral in Albano

When Priebke's coffin arrived at the Lefebvrian Institute on Tuesday (followed by a convoy of far-right militants), the assembled anti-fascist protesters who'd been waiting outside the institute started chanting and kicking the hearse. Clashes soon broke out between Priebke’s supporters and the protesters, until riot police cleared the area with tear gas, the coffin was seized by the authorities and the funeral was suspended.

So who exactly are these Nazi-sympathising, Holocaust-denying clergymen currently drawing the ire of everyone in Rome who isn't in favour of reinstating eugenics?

The Society of Saint Pius X was founded in Freiburg, Germany in 1970 by the French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre because he wasn’t happy with the Second Vatican Council, a group of Catholic clergy addressing relations between the Church and the modern world. He claimed himself to be the defender of the real Church – a pure Church that didn't submit to poncey new ideas about allowing congregations to celebrate mass using their own languages, rather than Latin.

In 1988, against the prohibition of Pope John Paul II, Lefebvre consecrated four bishops to continue his work at the SSPX, before the Holy See excommunicated all five of them almost immediately for going against the Pope's wishes. Lefebvre died three years later, but the SSPX has continued doing his work. According to their own stats, they're still active in 33 different countries.


Last year I had a phone conversation with Father Tam, a Lefebvrian priest who was banned from the Church, entered the Italian far-right party Forza Nuova and is no longer allowed to preach. Father Tam can be seen in Predappio – where Benito Mussolini was born – every year, marching a massive wooden cross to his grave to celebrate his birth and escalation to power. When I spoke to him, I was told that fascist values were "the real values" and that he believed in them and still does, whether people like it or not.

Marcel Lefebvre (Photo via)

I was told that the Lefebvrians take care of those to whom nobody listens, especially if those people happen to preach "traditional" (i.e. fascist) values. According to the Catholic sect, there are a few inarguable rules concerning Catholocism: inter-religious dialogue is bad, other religions don’t have the right to exist and the biggest crime that the Church is accountable for is ending the Crusades against the heretics. To convert others is a duty of every good Lefebvrian, even if Marcel Lefebvre has been dead for 20 years.

The Anti-Defamation League, a US-based group fighting anti-semitism, considers the SSPX an anti-semite organisation. And it's hard to argue with them, as the Lefebvrians have very clear ideas when it comes to Judaism: to them, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are unequivocally true and accusations of Jewish blood rituals are totally credible.


In 2009, an English member – Bishop Richard Williamson – took it one step further and declared that the Nazi gas chambers never existed and that WWII actually "only" killed 300,000 Jews. (Because a mere 300,000 Jews – compared to the estimated six million who actually did lose their lives – is chump change, obviously.) Following his remarks, Williamson was fined and ejected from the SSPX for "purely disciplinary reasons that had been going on for years, and had nothing to do with his previous statements".

In 2009, in line with the Ecclesiae Unitatem act, Pope Benedict XVI tried to reconcile the SSPX with the Church, but stated that "the doctrinal questions obviously remain and, until they are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry".

As a response to the rejection, the Lefebvrians protested against the sanctification of Pope John Paul II, who – according to them – not only left the Church in a state of degradation, but also considered "the Qur’an as the word of God and praised Saint John the Baptist to protect Islam and openly participated to the animistic cults in the forests of Togo".

So derogatory statements about other religions and a fondness for Nazi corpses is pretty much where the SSPX stand nowadays. The last time they were in the news it was about their lack of success in re-entering the Church; this time it's their lack of success in burying Priebke's body, and their prospects there aren't looking particularly strong, either. The body is currently being held at an airport near Rome while discussions are held over its final destination. With the majority of locals protesting against any idea of Italy serving as its resting place, Priebke's corpse could be doing laps of the luggage carousel for quite some time.

Some more stuff about neo-Nazis:

The EDL's Extremist Legacy Is More Dangerous Than They Are

Neo-Nazi Are Attacking Anti-Racist Activists in Calgary

WATCH – Triple Hate